Using new types of sensors, it’s possible to digitize every aspect of the value chain so that “things,” inanimate objects, are not only able to monitor their own state, but also the world around them and participate in two-way communication with other objects.

Using new types of sensors, it’s possible to digitize every aspect of the value chain so that “things,” inanimate objects, are not only able to monitor their own state, but also the world around them and participate in two-way communication with other objects.There is much debate whether the U.S. is in a manufacturing renaissance, but it’s clear that digitization of the enterprise, and in particular the Internet-of-Things (IoT), holds the potential to forever change the way executives approach lean, ushering in a new era of connected, frictionless manufacturing. That this transformation is going to happen is undeniable. As employees, clients and customers become much more social, mobile and connected, they’re bringing this perspective into organizations. They’re driving a need for businesses to create more intelligent, connected and adaptive organizations, often re-inventing business models and processes along the way.

Considered in its most distilled form, the essence of lean lies in an unrelenting focus on removing waste to maximize the flow of value. Generally, this focus is on the optimization of production speed and improving the quality of the end product. However, future lean manufacturing goes well beyond the shop floor. In an IoT world, lean flows have the potential to be extended outside the manufacturing process to where products or final components are used. This creates a higher-order system where external information can be fed back into the process to create even more value. For example, Boeing 787 airplanes provide real-time information while in flight to the maintenance crews about engine performance, avionics status, entertainment system issues, and more.

The data collected can also inform future design. In this way, the manufacturing process and real-time performance and behavior of an end-product, or even a single component, can be connected. Ultimately, this means the flow of value not only extends across design, sourcing, manufacturing, and customer usage, but circles back again
into the design, giving rise to “connected lean.” The setting and execution, however, must be just right for connected lean to shine. You can double down on lean in organizations and functions anywhere in manufacturing, but to get the most out of your efforts, data flows must be end-to-end. Digital technology is the new grease that keeps the flow moving smoothly across the value chain.

‘Connectedness’ is Critical

Connectedness is key to enabling this extension of lean manufacturing. Using new types of sensors, it’s possible to digitize every aspect of the value chain so that “things,” inanimate objects, are not only able to monitor their own state, but also the world around them and participate in two-way communication with other objects. This converts physical-world conditions and parameters into data, essentially digitizing the physical and allowing us to move from connecting people and devices to connecting machines to machines.

As we go beyond the manufacturing shop floor and connect all processes end-to-end, the next focus is to capture real-world usage information after products go to market. Whatever the industry, insight into usage, performance and maintenance cycles can be connected back into production to influence product adjustments. With end-to-end connectedness, data can also flow both ways to improve the overall experience. For example, when Tesla received a recall notice from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to inform them that a charger plug needed to be fixed because it could be a cause for fires, Tesla completed this fix with an over-the-air software update to more than 29,000 cars. No action was required by customers, and cars needn’t be physically returned to receive Using new types of sensors, it’s possible to digitize every aspect of the value chain so that “things,” inanimate objects, are not only able to monitor their own state, but also the world around them and participate in two-way communication with other objects.the fix.

The Fruits of ‘Frictionless’

The next step is to remove friction. This is where the real advantage arises. While the data that “things” generate is important, and the added control and process optimization that this enables is highly beneficial, it’s not what drives new value. It’s what you can do with the data as “things” self-monitor their state and communicate with the world around them. Data, combined with a series of if-then statements, can enable a near infinite number of complex decisions to be automated, frictionlessly – without human interaction – by machines.

At its simplest level a machine that exceeded a tolerance could send a message to the shop floor lead’s smartphone, so they can investigate the situation. And the message can also be sent to the machine’s manufacturer notifying them that a machine is having repeated quality issues. This brings with it new and, yet at the same time, still familiar value. Where we are able to go next with frictionless technology is yet more exciting. As computing power has continued to increase, we now have systems capable of deep learning. These systems go beyond the more simplistic if-then statements to model and understand correlations among complex sets of data to make informed decisions. With these systems in place, it’s possible to not only automate complex manufacturing processes but to make adaptive and responsive changes anywhere along the value chain.

In this way, transactions can move smoothly from engineering to manufacturing. Sensor data can support decisions regarding product change-outs, which can be made more quickly and nimbly.

Maintenance can be fully integrated with production. You can expect better data accuracy and timeliness, and therefore positive returns on sensor and system-to-system (API) investments as systems talk to one another instead of people.

The Differing Pace

Strategies and priorities to expand digital footprints differ across industries, whether we look at aerospace, automotive, mining, metals or industrial equipment.

In the automotive industry, connectedness is on a roll. Connected cars are equipped with smart technology that provides insight into vehicle usage, which can help to improve the product down the road. Tesla is the ultimate example of this. But the big question remains: how to make all the massive, connected insight meaningful, so that it feeds product improvement as well as how vehicles are built and maintained?

Aerospace has been quite successful with their efforts on the engineering side, but less successful plugging digital into the manufacturing side. As they seek ways to increase service levels, they may struggle to integrate engineering flows throughout the manufacturing system.

Metals firms are focusing on manufacturing system capabilities, passing information among machines.

Many firms are now seeking ways to include maintenance, so if one machine goes down, the data can inform the process line forward as well as backward all the way down to the metals. They are seeking new ways to ensure that adjustments to recipes on the shop floor are captured and infused with insight from engineering and so enable greater consistency in the process.

The common thread among all industries, each of which is starting from slightly different places, is the longer-term focus on how to improve the system end-to-end. The question they need to raise is, “How can we grow and expand our digital investments across the company to enable a connected and frictionless flow?”

Chief Transverse-Flow Officer

For some companies, the Connected Lean manufacturing renaissance is underway – though full uptake is still spotty at best. A reliance on customized, point solutions and maintaining a siloed approach are hampering progress, prohibiting advances to fully realizing an end-to-end connected lean manufacturing vision. To step out of the point-solution world, companies need to look beyond the shop floor, engineering and maintenance.

Lean leadership in the digital era requires that we create new transverse roles that build manage and evangelize connectedness across the company and outward into the market. These individuals must manage the business flow end-to-end as well as build and capture value across the organization. They go beyond their core responsibilities to establish and measure process- and company-wide metrics, and are responsible for rebalancing the finances so they make sense across the organization. Critically, they engender and enable connectedness across the company on multiple levels: systems, data, organization, people, technology and flow. Crucially, they build the necessary business and technology partnerships needed so that the business need is understood and the required technology is mindful of, and compatible with, legacy.

In some instances, firms are repurposing the role of the chief innovation officer to lead the connected lean charge. Others are building new positions that cut across traditional silos, making way for chief digital officers, chief innovation officers and chief data officers. Appointing the right people into the right transverse roles, however, typically isn’t the only solution. Making this shift is transformational and requires more than a new role or individual to achieve. For example, aside from the complexity of the technology and process changes, there is a significant people impact. Re-stating the company’s path around the two driving principles of connected and frictionless re shapes the skills needed to run the business. As certain tasks become automated and roles removed, others are created to support the data management, innovation cycles and new technology capabilities needed for connected lean.

That brings into play the ultimate transverse role, the CEO. Lean-focused connectedness must be driven from this level of leadership, beginning with an understanding of the current levels of digital intensity across the business. CEOs and others in the c-suite also have a key role in smoothing the path to connectedness by reducing silos, removing hierarchies and enabling a much more collaborative way of working. This is often the hardest to achieve since it challenges existing power structures and requires deep changes to existing working practices.

Thus the path to connected lean isn’t straight-forward and will cause disruption. It can be tempting to retreat to the known, to maintain stability internally and hope that your competitors and the market will do the same. However, with the digital race advancing at an ever greater pace, the pressure to respond will only increase. The risk is that companies that choose to do nothing may find it difficult to survive as the world changes around them.

Michael J. Dennis is a principal, manufacturing solutions, for Capgemini. Dr. Ben Gilchriest is a principal and Dave Gallimore is a senior manager for digital innovation at Capgemini. With more than 140,000 people in over 40 countries, Capgemini is one of the world's foremost providers of consulting, technology and outsourcing services. Together with its clients, Capgemini creates and delivers business and technology solutions that fit their needs and drive the results they want. For more information, visit


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